by Robyn Bidgood, a fifth year Psychology student who splitting her time playing music, obsessing about dogs and questioning her existence.
Many of us have seen conversations online about the Brock Turner case or watched the Hunting Ground – but sometimes it can feel like sexual violence happens only in other places, not here. But it is happening at Ryerson – on our streets, in our hallways, in classrooms and in our conversations online.
The point is we need to start acknowledging what is happening in our community and addressing what can be done about that. Ryerson is aiming to do this with the revision of our sexual violence policy and is looking to have student input on what needs to be changed to better serve the community. This will be done through open meetings that all students can attend (September 26 6:00-8:00 pm and November 7: 6:00-8:00PM) to discuss the policy with fellow students and express their concerns.
Now some of you may only need the promise of free food while others are maybe thinking of all the excuses in the world to not have to sit in a room for 2 hours and discuss policy. I feel you. However, despite what my clickbait title says, I am actually here to poke holes into those excuses and explain why it’s important for you to read the policy and attend these meetings. SO BRING ON THE EXCUSES.
“It doesn’t affect my life so why should I care?”
It’s easy to be naive to the sexual violence that’s happening around you if you don’t know what it is. Until I started working at the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education (OSVSE). I just thought that it was this vague and uncomfortable concept that they dedicated a 1 hour presentation to during Orientation week. It wasn’t really talked about but it was something as a woman I was told to avoid. Just cover your shoulders, don’t talk to strangers and you’ll be fine. But the more I learned about rape culture, sexual harassment and assault (Ryerson’s policy actually does a great job of defining what these are), the more I saw it in everyday life.
Sexual violence is probably about as common as a free meal on campus. I see it online with memes like rape sloth or “dicks out for Harambe”. I see it in my peers being catcalled on the street coming to Ryerson, or in discussions with my friends who were worried about being pressured into having sex on a date. These are things that I had never perceived as sexual violence before. That and knowing that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men will/have experienced sexual violence in their life time, I realized it was affecting my life and the lives of the people I care about. That’s why the policy was created. At Ryerson we are acknowledging that sexual violence does happen in our community. You should too.
“It’s an uncomfortable topic and I’d rather not talk about it.”
Totally get that. It’s really scary acknowledging that sexual violence is real, that people we know can be hurt and that people who we like or know can cause harm. I remember the first time I had a friend disclose to me that they had been sexually assaulted. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t really understand what had happened. All I know is it at the time it made me uncomfortable, at a loss for words and I wanted to just move on. It may be easier for you to pretend that sexual violence doesn’t exist but it isn’t easier for your friends and family who have been affected by it.
We have be able to talk about it so that anyone impacted by sexual violence knows that we as a Ryerson community are here to support and will listen. My friend who did disclose to me is now a really close friend. Through supporting each other, we are both speaking out about sexual violence now. Speaking out is how you can make a change. This isn’t a private issue, it’s something we all have to care about. Sexual violence happens, the more comfortable we are with talking about it, the more people can get the help they need – this may be some of your friends or family.
“It’s a long, complicated and boring document. I don’t have time.”
I get it. We’re all busy trying to keep up with our classes, our readings and our homework. The thought of dedicating your free time to reading a long policy with language you may not be familiar with instead of watching Netflix even makes me laugh. Too often it’s overwhelming to critically look at policy because you may not feel like expert on a issue – I mean I’ve watched all 12 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy TWICE and I still somehow doubt that I have what it takes to be a surgeon. But here’s the thing – we as students are experts on our lived experience and no one can tell us otherwise. The policy affects our lives directly – be it as someone that wants to report sexual violence or the person accused. It can seem like a waste of time when we don’t quite grasp the vague concepts outlined in the policy. But here’s the thing: we can ask for policies that are accessible and make sense because we are the ones that are most affected by them. By coming to these meetings you have the power to help shape how the University addresses sexual violence in a way that students understand. Once you understand the policy you can provide feedback. At the end of the day we all deserve to know what’s being done about sexual violence on campus in simple terms.
“I already know about sexual violence.”
If advocating for education and prevention of sexual violence and the support of survivors is something you are already a part of, awesome! We need student activists on campus making sure that this issue isn’t considered taboo or non-existent. The important thing to remember, though, is we all are continuously be learning and being informed. Your voice and knowledge is critical to this conversation. Over the summer I got work with a couple of survivors on campus on the OSVSE Healing Justice Advisory Committee. They gave great insights into the process of reporting, what survivors need on campus and what should be included in our Orientation trainings. These meeting are opportunities to speak with the University and amplify what many people have been asking our community to change. You know better than anyone what is happening in your friend group, in the classroom and on campus. Let the University know and let’s make change.
Having trouble thinking of ways to critically analyze the policy? Here are some questions you can think about/ask at the meetings (just pretend it’s not coming from a magazine that usually teaches you “10 ways to trick a guy into dating you”).
“No one cares what I think: I’m only one person.”
Have you ever had a professor tell you, “If you have a question you should ask it because there are probably other people in the class with the same question”? Well, that applies here too. It’s super cliché but you’re not the only one… One thing I have learned from doing workshops during Orientation is that everyone is impacted by it. People of all genders shared stories of feeling pressured, harassed and assaulted. We need to support our community by acknowledging that this is something that happens and their feelings are valid. You should raise your points or ask your questions. Because there are probably hundreds of people who feel the same way and will support what you have to say. That is how change actually happens.
Open Meetings for Students re: Updating the Sexual Violence Policy: Ryerson University will be revising its sexual violence policy during the 2016 Fall semester. This is in response to feedback after year one of the policy’s implementation and new regulations mandated by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development. Your voice is really important in this conversation. We would love you to be there to discuss the policy, share ideas and thoughts for consideration. Heather Lane Vetere, Vice Provost, Students, and Farrah Khan, Coordinator of the OSVSE will be there at the meetings. The dates for the meetings include September 26, 6:00-8:00 pm and October 17, 6:00-8:00PM in Jorgenson Hall-1410. You can find more information about these meetings here. If you can’t make it, you can provide feedback on the policy, through the following online form. The OSVSE can also meet with you as a group or one-on-one to go over the Bill 132 and discuss opportunities. Your insights are important and valued. Please let us know ways we can support you to engage with the policy discussions.
Learn more about the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education at ryerson.ca/sexual-violence.